Burma Human Rights Network has released a report titled “Discrimination and Corruption Plague Burmese Passport System” detailing systemic discrimination and corruption found throughout Burma’s passport office. The report details the multiple mechanisms used by the Burmese authorities to further burden the Muslim community living inside of Burma.
The authorities have forced Muslims to identify themselves as various non-Burmese nationalities on their ID cards and use these nationalities to then classify Muslims as ‘Mixed blood’. When Muslims apply for their passports faced systematic discrimination. Witnesses also reported instances of corruption where officials insisted on bribes by minority applicants to process their applications.
One of the most alarming details in the report is the use of Burma’s Special Branch intelligence police to investigate the home addresses and backgrounds of Muslim applicants for no apparent reason other than to intimidate and inconvenience them. Authorities justify this form of harassment by saying it is for security purposes.
The Burma Human Rights network is calling on the Burmese authorities to immediately release 23-year-old Ma Hla Phyu, a Muslim teacher who was arrested, reportedly denied access to a lawyer and sentenced to a year in prison with hard labour for attempting to travel from Kyaukphu, Rakhine State, to the country’s economic centre and former capital, Yangon.
Ma Hla Phyu was found guilty of using someone else’s ID in order to travel to Yangon, which she apparently did as a last resort due to heavily discriminatory policies restricting the travel of Muslims from Rakhine State. She was arrested on 26 May by a joint force of police and military at 10pm in Taungup Township. She was sentenced to a year in prison with hard labour on May 28th under sections 6(2) and 6(3) of the immigration act. She was then sent to Thantwe Prison. She was in possession of a National Verification Card, a lower status temporary I.D. Muslims are pressured to accept, especially in Rakhine State.
On 7th June, 2018 the Burmese Government and United Nations agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the voluntary repatriation of 700,000 Rohingya refugees who were displaced following a military offensive against the civilian population last summer. While on its face this agreement could be is a positive step, the Burma Human Rights Network urges further scrutiny and vigilance about this agreement and its implementation over the coming years.
It should be noted that Burma and the UN previously coordinated on repatriation efforts of the Rohingya following mass exoduses from military crackdowns in 1978 and 1991-92. Witnesses to these repatriations still speak of gross human rights abuses that have continued and worsened over the years. Precedents have been set to question Burma’s seriousness regarding the repatriation of the Rohingya and the UN’s ability to oversee such events on Burma’s terms.